BBC NewsAndrew Marr Show


Page last updated at 08:21 GMT, Sunday, 29 June 2008 09:21 UK

Ken explains his defeat

On Sunday 29 June Andrew Marr interviewed Ken Livingstone

'I couldn't overcome Labour's unpopularity' says the former Mayor of London.

Ken Livingstone
Ken Livingstone

ANDREW MARR: So, this week we've had Henley, before that there was Crewe and Nantwich, but the recent toll of election disasters for Labour started back in May with a drubbing in the local elections.

And the biggest scalp claimed that night was of course Ken Livingstone's.

He lost his job as Mayor of London to Boris Johnson after a controversial campaign. He'd held the post for eight years, first as an independent when he was snubbed by Labour, and then as their official candidate.

Since London's voters said no he's said little about his future plans, but tomorrow he starts his stint as a phone-in host for the radio station LBC. Right now he's here with me. Welcome.

KEN LIVINGSTONE: Good morning.

ANDREW MARR: Good morning. Radio host - this is not the future for you, is it?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: Well I don't know. I mean I've always enjoyed that. I mean I actually, 20 years ago, sat in for Jimmy Young one week while he was away. And the technology's moved on since then and I mean it's much more interactive. I like their dialogue.

I mean one of the things I loved about being Mayor was people come up to you on the street, they tell you what you think and you're constantly involved in debate and argument and so on. So I mean I'd quite happily do that.

ANDREW MARR: Your biographer says you're traumatised by the loss of office. Is that right?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: No, that weekend it was like a bereavement and everyone around me was like it was like a bereavement. But unlike a real bereavement by the Tuesday you're over it and you're getting on with work, and hey there's an awful lot of things you've put off for years and years and years, round the house, round the garden, papers.

I mean all the papers I'd assembled on the assumption I'd one day do my autobiography had to be trundled out of the building on the Saturday. And I really only just got round to finishing the sorting out of that.

ANDREW MARR: But you have been, you've been prowling around City Hall a bit, people say you're stalking, you're Boris's stalker.

KEN LIVINGSTONE: I mean my entire life has been London politics. I find it fascinating watching Boris do the job I was doing, working out how I'd do it differently, looking at what I think are the mistakes which will bring him down in four years. And therefore, I mean, I find it fascinating, you can go in and watch two and a half hours of Boris and it's free. You'd pay about ten quid to get into a cinema.

ANDREW MARR: Some people say that one of the things about you is you never admit mistakes, you never admit fault, you are always right all along, about everything. Now you've had some time to reflect, give us "Ken Livingstone where I went wrong".

KEN LIVINGSTONE: I know, I think on all the big issues we called it right, i.e. we got the Olympic Games, we rebuilt the bus service, we finally after 40 years persuaded the British government to come up with the funds to build crossrail.

Boris has inherited 39 billion to spend in the next ten years on transport. And, I mean, you can have a good idea what London's going to look like in 20 years because of what we did. Those are small things, I mean, but they're all the trivial things, should I have a row with this reporter, should I be nicer to Veronica Wadley but you couldn't get close to Veronica Wadley.

ANDREW MARR: Do you regret that business about the concentration camp guard - talk about small things but it certainly soured relationships with London's newspaper.

KEN LIVINGSTONE: Well it didn't sour, I mean it's a bizarre thing that I phoned Veronica Wadley the day she was appointed and said, I had no idea of anything about her. I mean, we need to get together, we need to talk. Because I'd had a good relationship with Max Hastings.

ANDREW MARR: The former editor of the London Evening Standard, just so that's explained to people.

KEN LIVINGSTONE: And she said I'll get back to you. Can you imagine any other city in the world where the editor of the only evening paper never meets the Mayor. It was eventually after about six years we bumped into each other at a social function. But also I'm not prepared to say to journalists I think you're right, or you're good, when they're following me along the street at night, actually.

ANDREW MARR: This is not quite a sort of self-lacerating mea culpa we're getting here is it?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: Well I don't see life as you know, crippled with doubt. I know I make mistakes. I get up and I move on. I mean, I suppose the one mistake I regret, making, was not specifying the call centre for the congestion charge would be in Croydon rather than Coventry, because the people in Croydon would have had a better idea of where things were in London. But they're that level of mistake.

ANDREW MARR: If that's the case why did Boris Johnson win?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: I think you've obviously got a situation where Labour is most unpopular in its history. And I remember waking up on the Friday morning, turned on the Today programme and heard Labour's vote was down to 24%. I thought "oh dear, I can't overcome that". If it had been 27% I'd have hung on. But...

ANDREW MARR: Basically you blame Labour nationally, Gordon Brown...

KEN LIVINGSTONE: I don't blame Labour because I built up a personal vote which was about a quarter of a million. I mean I ran a quarter of a million votes ahead of the Labour Party. If I could have built that up to a third of a million I'd still be there. I mean I should have done that. So you've got to allow for the fact parties will be unpopular sometimes.

ANDREW MARR: What about the perception though, that there was a kind of tight coterie of people around you, Ken's people, Lee Jasper and many others. And to be absolutely frank about it there was a certain sort of arrogance. You'd been in power for eight years and...

KEN LIVINGSTONE: This is the difference that the mayoral system in London is unlike anything else in British politics. You are the executive. You're not working through Sir Humphrey and you need a core of people around who are totally loyal to you. Boris's weakness, which I think will threaten his chance of a second term, is he hasn't got that, he's not been involved in political campaigning, he's not been part of the faction in the Tory party, he's been a journalist.

And therefore there's not a core of half a dozen people there totally loyal who he can trust with his life. Almost everybody that's been brought in their loyalty is to David Cameron. And when, and if, David Cameron wins they'll be off there. The decisions they're making at the moment are not what's best for London, but what's best for the Tory Party at the General Election.

ANDREW MARR: It is when and not if, isn't it?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: And if I had to bet my money, I mean clearly it's not a very happy prospect for the Labour Party. But I think the one thing that's killing Labour at the moment will have passed. Most people think we're going to go through a recession like we had in the early Eighties or the early Nineties. And they think lots of people are going to lose their homes, high unemployment. I don't think that's going to happen. I think the government's put in place the sort of things which will moderate that.

There's not going to be strong growth, but we're not going to have a recession. In a year's time people will have got over this, they'll see well we did get through that. I mean we've had this, what will then be 13 years without a recession, it'll be a stronger card, it won't necessarily deliver a victory, there's a lot more got to be done. But I wouldn't be prepared to bet my own money on the outcome of the next election.

ANDREW MARR: You've famously in the past fell out with Gordon Brown. What would your advice to him be now?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: Well he's an intensely private person. I mean, it's quite interesting, when I had my first meeting with him as he became Prime Minister I came out and I said to my chief of staff, well that wasn't as much fun as with Tony. Because Tony had lots of gossip and so on. And it was all just work with Gordon. And my chief of staff said, yes, but we got more done.

And therefore with the passage of time I think people will realise you know we haven't got a showman and we haven't got someone who will charm you and seduce you into voting for them. But there'll be a record of delivery. I mean I got out of Gordon Brown 4 billion to build 50,000 affordable homes. The biggest housing programme since the Seventies, not a word of that in the papers.

ANDREW MARR: Do you think therefore, that Labour's best chance is to hang on to him or to get rid of him?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: I think a change of leader, I don't think, would change the outcome of the election. There's a lot of problems have built up, as they do with any party in power over a long period of time. And I wouldn't advocate changing the leader, you've got to hang on in there and deliver.

You've got to show that. We've got the ability to build, get housing construction underway. You've got to tackle this feeling that working class people haven't done as well under this government as middle class people have, and that's a lot to do with our attitudes towards trade unions and so on, and a lot to do with the attitudes to the minimum wage. If you can restore that classic Labour victory pattern...

ANDREW MARR: So you're...

KEN LIVINGSTONE: ...middle class and working class together. But I think far too much of it has been about shifting a bit of wealth within these two groups rather than...I think the big mistake of both Blair and Brown, not being prepared to increase on the rich. That's the weakness.

ANDREW MARR: So a bit of old-fashioned socialist redistribution?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: I think that's inevitable because otherwise you're shifting a bit either from the working class to the middle class or back. Both of those need to be on board for a Labour fourth term.

ANDREW MARR: What about yourself, are there any circumstances in which you'd like to get back into the House of Commons?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: I mean I can't think of any reason of being in the House of Commons unless you've got a chance of being Prime Minister. And I mean...

ANDREW MARR: He says modestly...

KEN LIVINGSTONE: No, literally, I mean, the power is so centralised now in Downing Street. The old days when powerful back bench figures could affect things, those are long gone. I mean I'm happy just to carry on what I'm doing, offering comrade advice to Boris Johnson now and then, and see what happens in four years.

ANDREW MARR: I'm sure he's very pleased to receive it. There's been all sorts of talk about Dona King or Alan Sugar or somebody else being a Labour candidate next time round. Could you see yourself standing again next time round in four year's time?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: I - it's the same answer I gave when I think you asked me this coming up to the last election. I won't make a decision until 2010 once the General Election's over and the Labour Party starts the process. If there was an election now I'd run again. But the main focus has got to be on trying to get Labour back for a fourth term. But I'd certainly love to do the job because they were the best years of my life. I'm a workaholic, it fits in perfectly.

ANDREW MARR: It is possible, from your point of view, however uncomfortable it may be, that Boris Johnson does a good job, isn't it?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: Well I'd rather he did a good job and London continued to develop and grow in the directions that I think broadly this consensus we should be going in. I don't want to get back in four years and face a catastrophe that I've got to clear up.

So far the signals are mixed. He's appointed some very dubious people, but I think the real weakness around Boris instead of doing the job himself he's devolving too much of it. This guy Tim Parker he's appointed as deputy mayor is the unacceptable face of asset-stripping. And then there's this bovver boy from Bexley who's going to take all the planning decisions. I'd say to Boris, this is the best job in the world, do it yourself, don't dump it on other people.

ANDREW MARR: And yet the signs are that he is getting rid of some of the other things he was going to do and focusing more on it. From your point of view what is the biggest sort of policy challenge that he now has, that London has, and therefore of the country, and is involved in.

KEN LIVINGSTONE: I think the biggest problem we have in London is affordable housing. There are just hundreds of thousands of Londoners who will never be able to afford to buy a house.

ANDREW MARR: Which is the case all across the country?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: But it's really intense here. Unless you already own a home your chance of getting on that ladder is impossible. So, you can do all these other things that help people that are at the margin just to make that step. But there's the hundreds of thousands for which you have to build homes to rent. And Boris has indicated he's not going to put the emphasis on that that I would have done.

And, yes, you need your incredibly talented bankers in a city, and your brilliant business people. But if you haven't got the cleaners and the people to drive the buses, the people who do all those jobs on which they rest you've got to provide housing for all, not just those who can afford to buy.

ANDREW MARR: Age of Ken, is it over?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: Oh, what I find quite interesting is the number of things that Boris has already indicated he will carry on that I started, simply because they were right for London. So I mean, whether I'm ever Mayor again or not, I think a lot of the things we did in this eight years are not going to be changed by anybody else.

ANDREW MARR: Ken Livingstone, for now thank you very much indeed for coming in.


Please note "The Andrew Marr Show" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

NB: This transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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